NOW that the major political parties have decided to bury the hatchet and talk face to face to find a way out of the political and economic logjam that has been with us for nearly a decade, it is time to revisit important issues such as the constitution, economic and social development, nationalism and other related policies and strategies.
I would like to focus mainly on the economy as a pivot for all development paying
particular attention to the land question.
We have heard, from Zanu PF that “Land is the economy and the economy is land”. This is the fervent rhetoric that has underpinned their nationalistic ideology but unfortunately the rhetoric has so far not been matched with action. Zimbabweans need more than empty words to fill their stomachs. They need a functional economy which guarantees them a meal on the table at the end of the day, guarantees them that their savings will not be eroded by rampant inflation, that they can send their children to school. These are basic needs which should not be negotiable in any political settlement. A political party which fails to deliver this should not expect voter sympathy at all but that’s a debate for another day.
In delivering this basic economic guarantee, land plays a crucial role but it is not the only necessary concomitant for successful delivery. It is part of a synergy of economic fundamentals which in today’s financial world is underpinned by a robust service delivery system including financial services.
It is the understanding of the inter-relationship of the means of production and factors of production and how best we can let the market forces underpin this interaction that we have been found wanting. How then can we go forward and harness land as a crucial part of the economic bandwagon? The first port of call is obviously an assessment of the status quo and then improve or change it where appropriate.
It is naÃ¯ve to think that we could go back to the pre-2000 farm invasion arrangement as it was unfair, unjust and not in the best interest of long-term development, and I am afraid neither is the current structure, albeit with more “farmers” than before. For starters we do not know exactly how many people have been resettled, where, who holds what and on what terms. There are stories of multiple farm owners, land which has gone fallow for a number of years and plenty which is under-utilised for one reason or another.
Even after the resettlement, there are many who still feel left out of the process, a process which many feel was driven by partisanship, than by need/want, means and ability to farm. It is this crucial “want, means and ability to farm” test which the government blatantly ignored when it embarked on the land reform in 2000.
The first question will be therefore how do you ensure a fair and equitable distribution without reversing what has been achieved so far? Concurrent with an audit of current ownership and available land it will be in the national interest to demarcate all land not surveyed before into title holdings with all the titles in the name of the state in resettled areas. Titles should also be extended to the communal areas demarcating land into indivisible titles that will prevent further sub-division of plots into sub-economic holdings. The next step will be to transfer titles in resettlement areas to individuals in a way that creates value for land. It is this value creation which is essential in underpinning any economic activity on this land.
The only way is to affix a price to any holdings which the individual farmer has to pay to acquire the title deeds that will give him full ownership. Those who can pay cash should be free to do so and those who cannot should have access to mortgages or long-term transferable leases. Existing occupiers will automatically have the right of first offers.
Making people buy whatever they aspire to own not only creates value for whatever is bought, and forces the holder to utilise the land to earn an income that justifies the initial purchase cost but also ensures a measure of equity for millions who feel left out of the resettlement process. Obviously land is a finite resource and not everyone can successfully be resettled unless we want to turn the whole country into small, unproductive, sub-optimal holdings. I am sure the benefits of having title deeds are well documented and there is no point in regurgitating them.